Reading current news usually depresses me: global warming, terrorist attacks, even the pre-Olympic debacles. Sometimes, I feel like the apocalypse is coming. Then, there is “The Skimm”, which takes the news and explains it in a light, funny, witty and millennial voice. “We read. You Skimm” is their tagline. Here are two great examples (I added the boxes to highlight their witty writing): I get my news scoops without feeling the stress. Their voice is so unique that I know a clip is from the Skimm when I read one. Like the Skimm, each business has its own voice and writing style. The challenge is to make it unique and consistent. Uniqueness is much harder to achieve than consistency.
UNIQUENESS IS ACCOMPLISHED BY KNOWING WHO YOU ARE AND WILLING TO SHOW IT
The unique voice of a small business is usually defined by its founder. The marketing teams take direction from their founders, therefore, the owner’s voice will indirectly be reflected in outbound marketing communications. The typical examples are your local car dealers, real estate brokers or doctors. In Portland, Oregon, where I live, Emily and Molly Fisher have been doing their dad’s car dealership radio commercials, Jim Fisher Volvo, for more than 15 years. They always end with “you’ll love the way we treat you.” One more example that comes to mind is George Foreman’s Grill Infomercial. George Forman sold millions of lean machine grill in the 90’s and 2000’s. He talks to his customers like he talks to next-door neighbors, blending a touch of southern hospitality and charm. His voice is distinctive along with his products. Here is the George’s 1996 infomercial.
The unique voice can be a specific persona (think of Flo of the Progressive Insurance or The most interesting man in the word of Dos Equis Beer) and/or a unique communication style. It’s what differentiates the business. When I hear Emily and Molly’s voice on radio, I know the ad is for Jim Fisher Volvo. When I hear George Foreman, I know it’s something related to his Grill. The unique voice comes from how you want to present yourself and your products in front of your customers. It’s about knowing who you are and how far you are willing to go to show that. Your outlandishness can also be your uniqueness (e.g. the current GOP presidential nominee).
CONSISTENCY IS ACCOMPLISHED BY DOCUMENTATION AND TRAINING
The consistency of your voice across various channels is a different story. Emily and Molly Fisher’s voice is only applicable to Jim Fischer’s radio commercials, not to their Facebook page, print ads, or local TV commercials. George Forman’s distinctive voice in his infomercials doesn’t apply to GeorgeFormanCooking.com. There are lot of reasons to not pursue inconsistency in some cases. For Jim Fisher, it’s probably about protecting his daughters’ privacy and not exposing their pictures in every medium. For George Forman, his company has simply become too big. The persona voice has grown to be more of an enterprise tone-and-manner. Personally, I’d love to see George Forman’s voice and style throughout his cooking site. I think it would add a nice and nostalgic personal touch. Maybe they should create two different landing pages, one that has more of a Forman presence, and do A/B testing to see which works best (Maybe they did that already).
If you have a team managing various marketing channels, the consistency comes from established processes and documentation. Write down “who are you” and “what is the voice” in a proper document, aka brand/style guide or communications guidance. In your guidebook, you need to address:
- Our mission, our story (Who are you? Why do you exist?)
- Brand persona (What are your 3-5 brand personality?)
- Product messaging (What are the benefits of our products/services?)
- Logo, color, typography usage
- Image selection criteria
- Print ad guidance
- Video production guidance
- Writing communications do’s and don’ts (what words resonates with the brands? Show writing examples)
- Social media communications don’s and don’ts
Most of the brand guides cover the first five bullets above. With the rise of social media, it’s also important to address writing, image and video rules.
Once you create the guide, the next step is communication, communication and communication. At a minimal level, make sure that PR, marketing and sales have been briefed. If you have a team of brand ambassadors or employee bloggers, they should also receive the training. The more they understand the rules, the more they are likely to follow the rules.
ONE FINAL NOTE…
Your voice continues to evolve as your business grows and changes. Finding your unique voice and making it consistent is a journey. My own voice has evolved extensively since I left the corporate world two years ago. The Skimm is only 4 years-old. I am curious how they will evolve their voice as they grow with their millennial audiences. As a subscriber, I am looking forward to being part of their journey.